With the debut of the 2016 National Steeplechase Association season little more than a month away, Irv Naylor’s Eclipse Award winner Dawalan tops the Ratings Handicap with a ranking of 156 pounds.
Introduced last spring at the urging of the NSA’s Promotion & Growth Committee, the Ratings Handicap has proved to be a popular and highly competitive race. Last year’s Ratings Handicaps attracted average fields of nine starters, nearly two starters more than all other races, and several Ratings Handicaps resulted in close finishes.
In all, eight Ratings Handicaps have been scheduled for the 2016 spring season, including the year’s opening race meet, the Aiken Spring Steeplechase in Aiken, S.C., on Saturday, March 26.
The Ratings Handicaps, an innovation in American racing, were imported from overseas, where they are a regular fixture of jump racing in England and Ireland. In the U.S., they are an alternative to claiming races.
“The Ratings Handicaps have proved to be a valuable addition to the program,” said NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr. “The large fields attest to their popularity, and the Ratings Handicaps offer owners an opportunity to compete without placing their horses at risk of being claimed.”
The Ratings are prepared by a three-person committee–Equibase chart caller Martin Chamberlin, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Editor Joe Clancy, and Virginia race announcer Will O’Keefe–working under Gallo’s supervision. In all, they rated more than 100 horses, all winners over hurdles.
Dawalan’s dominant fall season, in which he won the Grand National (Gr. 1) and Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1), earned him the top spot in the ratings. He boasts a six-pound advantage over Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s 2014 Eclipse winner Demonstrative and Naylor’s Rawnaq, both at 150.
Fourth in the rankings is The Fields Stable’s Bob Le Beau, winner of Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap and Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap, both Grade 1 races, at 145.
The spring Ratings Handicaps offer opportunities for horses with lesser rankings. The Aiken race, the Ford D. Conger, is limited to horses with ratings between 110 and 90, and the Stoneybrook Steeplechase in Southern Pines, N.C., on April 2 will offer a Ratings Handicap with the same range.
Under the Ratings Handicap system, the starting top-rated horse carries 158 pounds, and the weights decline to a bottom of 140 (before any allowances) according to the ratings.